Charlotte Ronson is going big in China.
The designer and her business partner, Aaron Nir, left for Shanghai on Saturday to mark the opening of the first two Charlotte Ronson boutiques there: a 1,200-square-foot store at the IFC mall, and a 1,150-square-foot unit at the new Xintiandi Style mall in the popular Xintiandi neighborhood of Shanghai.
The stores serve to launch Charlotte Ronson in China, where the contemporary brand is embarking on a major retail push as part of a five-year deal inked with MH Concepts earlier this year. The agreement includes the opening of 200 retail doors, from freestanding stores to department store shop-in-shops, and establishing Ronson as a major fashion force in this burgeoning market.
For Ronson, who launched her brand less than a decade ago, the openings mark a major step in the evolution of her company.
The designer will celebrate the opening with two in-store events today, where she is meeting with Chinese media executives, followed by an official launch party and runway show on the roof of the House of Roosevelt on the Bund.
The stores unveil a new prototype for Ronson, who has a boutique on Mulberry Street in New York. The new stores were designed by John Lee and Workshop for Architecture and have a modernist, almost graphic feel — a far cry from her NoLIta environs. The event also establishes Ronson as a retail brand in China.
In early November, MH Concepts plans to add another store at Harbor City in Hong Kong, and MH Concepts, which is headed by former Gap Asia-Pacific executive Meanne Ho, plans to open two more stores in Shanghai by March, one of which is expected to be at Plaza 66. A Beijing store is slated to open next summer, and more stores are planned in Huangdao and Chengdu after that.
Ronson and Nir plan to stage a runway fashion show in Shanghai in March.
For Ronson herself, this is the first trip to China.
“I am really excited to meet my customer and to see what is going on out there, from the design to the customer — the fashion, the way of dressing, the culture,” she said. “I hope also to get an idea of who I am designing for.”
Fashion brands have long spoken of China as a major frontier for growth, but until recently it was mainly the luxury brands with deep pockets that were able to establish themselves significantly in the market. Ronson is one of the first smaller brands with such an aggressive growth platform.
Jeffry Aronsson, founder of the Aronsson Group, introduced Nir and Ronson to MH Concepts and helped put together the deal.
“We are a young brand, and we do have a deep, interesting story to tell,” Nir said. “We have a good aesthetic and product. Then there is Charlotte’s history and family background. It’s an easy story to tell in China. For example, we are hoping to invite Charlotte’s sister, Samantha, to DJ in our fashion show there.”
Nir, who owns the business with Ronson, added that over the next five years, China could represent more than half of Ronson’s total business, which currently generates $30 million in U.S. volume.
On Tuesday, Ronson will take a tour of Shanghai; she hopes to see ancient temples and the Shanghai World Expo. Throughout, she will be trailed by a camera crew covering her arrival for Chinese television networks. To further boost her profile in the market, Ronson has been tapped to style two lead characters in a movie based on the popular Chinese novel “Grow Through Pain.” The romantic comedy will be directed by the well-known Chinese film and television-series director Teng HuaTao. The partnership between Ronson and the film will be unveiled at the party tonight.
In addition to China, Ronson and Nir have set their sights on other global markets including the Middle East — where Ronson is already selling in cities such as Beirut, Kuwait and Bahrain and looking for a distribution deal — and South Korea. “We think Korea is a fascinating and very energetic market,” Nir said. “They are 24/7 shoppers. We are also working on London. There seems to be an interest there that we want to capitalize on, and it’s a natural fit.”
“It’s also where I am from,” Ronson said.